'Hamba kahle mfanakithi' - Zuma to Bheki Cele before shock suspension

2017-12-17 06:00
Bheki Cele Picture: Craig Nieuwenhuizen

Bheki Cele Picture: Craig Nieuwenhuizen

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Following his axing as national police commissioner in 2012, Bheki “The General” Cele addressed the media and the nation one last time. He asked for space to be allowed to go back to his home in KwaZulu-Natal, to rebuild his life with his wife, MaNgcobo.

“Today I am officially shutting up and going home,” he said – finally following his own advice.

Cele had advised then DA leader Helen Zille and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu to “shut up and go home” three years earlier. This followed the National Prosecuting Authority’s decision to withdraw corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma.

Today though, Cele has gone back on his promise and there is no getting him to shut up, particularly when it comes to his time with the police. His eyes light up from beneath the brim of his trademark fedora and he recalls his days on the job with great excitement.

“Three days after we arrived, there was a cash heist somewhere in Pretoria. I went to see and police were lying dead in the road. The money was gone. That week there were seven robberies in the malls for seven days. It was a headline. They were hitting a mall a day. When I got to the scene, the money is gone, there is a Mercedes-Benz C280 and a [Golf] GTI. The police showed up in a Corolla. I said ‘Jesus Christ’.”

He recounts story after story of the gains made in policing through various initiatives. He sings the praises of former Hawks head Anwa Dramat and the former Hawks bosses in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, Shadrack Sibiya and Johan Booysen, respectively.

His storytelling is interrupted by a phone call. “I can’t take this one, Mrs Cele,” he says, answering the call from his wife.

He boasts about the dramatic downward trend in crimes under his watch, and how he met the challenges of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

“There were these thieves who thought they were clever by stealing from the Spanish media team in Magaliesburg. Within 48 hours of committing the crime, they were behind bars and got sentences of 14 years. Even as we speak they are there. No one else tried their luck after that.”

All good things must come to an end, though. In 2011, reports that Cele had been involved in corruption, relating to the improper leasing of police buildings, dogged the general.

This followed a report by then public protector Thuli Madonsela and a subsequent inquiry which ruled he was not fit to hold office.

“I was suspended while on the job. We had met the day before – myself and the president.

“After that meeting, I then told the president I was going to Mpumalanga to launch the safe festive season campaign. It was there that he gave me the title of the book I am going to write. “Uhambe kahle mfanakithi,” he says with a deep chuckle.

“When I tell the story of what happened to me, that will be the title: Go well, my brother.”

"You have been suspended"

During the campaign launch the following day, an SABC reporter shoved a microphone at him and asked why he was doing police work despite being suspended.

“They say to me, ‘you are not supposed to be here, you have been suspended’. I said, ‘hey wena, do you know what you are talking about? Who has suspended me?’

“We check and indeed there was a statement released around 14:30 suspending me. It is around 15:30 then. At 18:30pm, the suspension letter came. But I had been suspended at 14:30 live. I am live being suspended, but also live on the job,” he says with a laugh.

Months later, following the Moloi inquiry, the axe officially fell on his head.

“The president called me that time and said, ‘Mfanakithi, there is nothing a person can do, the results are out, we must announce that, sekunjalo.’

“If the president had not called me to tell me he is firing me, I would never have suspected that. He was full of high praise for me. He praised me so much that I suspected that he had changed his mind. But he finally announced it, ehamba nayo inkabi yakhe uRiah,” he said, referring to disgraced commissioner Riah Phiyega, who took over from him.

Ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung in 2012, Cele topped the party’s provincial and national lists. He says it was a response by those in the party who wanted to make a statement that they were backing him.

“That is how I came to be here where I am, MaCele,” he says, taking another sip of water.

As he is currently serving as deputy minister in the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, I jokingly ask Cele: “You got here with the fish?”

“The fish and the trees, not just the fish. You mustn’t forget the cabbages as well,” he retorts.

Recently, Cele has returned to the spotlight, this time to preach the gospel of Cyril Ramaphosa, the messiah who many believe will save the ANC from itself after the ANC’s elective conference.

It is a far cry from the staunch Zuma loyalist he was at the ANC’s 2007 elective conference, where then president Thabo Mbeki was ousted in favour of Zuma.

He says Mbeki’s televised announcement that he was sacking Zuma as deputy president in June 2005 “hurt too many of us”.

“I was also fired on TV. It hurt too many of us, but we could not control the situation on the ground in KwaZulu-Natal. It was getting out of hand, taxi bosses were getting involved, T-shirts with the face of the ANC president were being burnt.”

When Zuma was put on trial for rape in 2006, Cele was ANC chair in eThekwini.

“That is one region that carried the issue of Msholozi to the highest office. John Mchunu, Bheki Cele and the whole of eThekwini. I remember how we all cried, including him, when we had the last prayer on the eve of the verdict of the rape case. We were at Dube’s church behind the workshop [shopping mall]. It was John, myself and Sdumo. We prayed and clearly our prayers were heard because we were victorious.”

Despite having supported Zuma through his legal woes, when the Mangaung conference came, he made it known that Zuma’s second term would be a “heavy one” and suggested it would be best for Zuma not to stand.

“We said issues would be the Guptas – they were not as popular then – the spy tapes, Nkandla. And the rape issue, though it was not there legally, but politically and morally you can’t get out of that thing. The solution was for the guy to just go, he had anyways said he would take one term.

“I was saying to them as KwaZulu-Natal leadership they must approach him and have the discussion internally. It must not be seen as an attack from the outside or coming from someone who was bitter because he was fired.”

Cele says his relationship with Zuma is civil, although there is some unfinished business.

“We greet each other. At the last national executive committee I saw him and said, ‘Haw Msholozi’. He responded, ‘Haw Ndosi’. We are fine, we are human beings, but it does not mean there is no pain. There is pain. Painful things have happened. I just hope that one day we can sit down as men and talk through the issues. If he has not felt any pains for me, I have felt pains for him.”

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  bheki cele

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